Some further notes on characters after our weekend playtest:
Attributes: It's roll, spend points, or use the standard array for the standard d20 attribute list. The bonuses use the same d20 scale we've been using since 2000.
Alignment: Still an option though de-emphasized. No apparent magical effects or class restrictions based on it which makes it fully an RP choice rather than a mechanical one.
Races: Standard classic D&D races. nothing exotic like Dragonborn or Tieflings or the like. They have brought back a lot of the subraces now, so you will be choosing mountain dwarf or hill dwarf, high elf or wood elf, and even the halfling subraces are back. There's a definite AD&D feel there. In general each racial choice gives a +1 to two different stats and the usual vision enhancements/resistance to something/bonus language. For the subraces, the over-race gives one stat bonus, like elves +1 dex, and the subrace gives the other - high elves are +1 int, for example. There are some other things in the mix, like halflings are "lucky" and get to reroll some 1's. Oh and humans get no racial abilities but get a +1 to all stats. That's getting some flak on message boards as "too powerful" but I'm not so sure after seeing it in play.
Backgrounds: In earlier packets these were skill packages. now there are no skills in the game so they grant "lore" abilities (a big bonus on Int tests in one area) from a list of around 10 lores. They also have equipment packages and some kind of minor non-combat perk. A lot of people are upset about the loss of skills and I get that but going with attribute checks for skill type checks and saves does return them to prominence. I like the background concept as it does make it more obvious that a mage might have been a soldier before, or a thief might be a noble and so mixes up the default/stereotype things we see so much.
Feats: Nobody starts with feats. Starting around 4th level most classes get the option for an ability score increase, and they will have 3-4 more levels between there and lvl 20 to do the same thing. Instead of taking this increase they can take a feat instead and each feat is pretty strong with multiple abilities and no level requirements or other pre-req's. Some of them also cover minor multiclassing in a way similar to 4E's multiclass feats. There are fewer of them and each character will have fewer of them, but they are a lot more interesting.
Classes: Fighter/Cleric/Mage/Rogue plus Barbarian/Druid/Paladin/Ranger/Monk. There are "paths/traditions/oaths" now which are sort of like a build in 4E or a subclass in older editions - for example, illusionist is a school choice under the tradition of wizardry. Barbarians can go berserker or totem warrior, clerics can choose from several domains (sun, life, etc), Fighters have gladiator/knight/warrior. I'll use Druids as an example as theirs seemed to show the differences pretty well.
|In Next this might be a druid and his ranger friend|
Basic druid spellcasting is pretty strong - they get thunderwave as a 1st level spell which is pretty nice - and the "Circle of the Land" is a choice to focus on spell power. It grants an extra cantrip, extra prepared spells at each level, and extra spell per day at each level. The land circle druid chooses one of 7 types of terrain and their bonus spell choices are tied to that, a themed list of spells so the mountain druid gets things like stoneskin while the coastal druid gets things like water breathing. I think it's a pretty flavorful set of choices. Land also grants the traditional ignore natural entanglements, immunity to poisons/charm/disease at various levels. The big sacrifice here is that you're not going to be turning into a T-Rex and chomping on a dragon with this circle choice, though you could hit it with an insect plague or an earthquake spell.
The only notable druid spell choice that's missing is summon nature's ally, which was a big part of some past druid types. I'm guessing this is a deliberate playtest choice as there are no summon monster spells in the wizard list either. I'm also guessing the summoning stuff will be handled down the road and might even end up as the big feature of another druid circle.
Druids also have wild shape and this is somewhat different, between the spellcasting-dire-bear combat monster of 3E and the notably weaker "why bother" version of 4E. The core wild shape ability starts at 2nd level with a wolf/hound option and then continues fairly quickly with steed/fish/rodent and bird options all available by 9th level. Note that these are utility forms, not combat monster forms. Fish lets you swim, bird lets you fly, hound is a sense boost, rodent lets you hide, but none of them are big boosts in a fight and I was a little disappointed when I first read through this section. However, for fighting forms you have the "Circle of the Moon". Bear & cat forms come into play and then enhancers such as "giant", "ancient", and finally "behemoth". All wild shapes are basically stat boosts with some other enhancement like swim/fly/senses and with the battle shapes there's also a damage enhancement. There are limits on using gear and most importantly on spellcasting but if you want to play a melee druid it is certainly possible here.
So the circles do add significant flavor and I could see two druids in the same party not stepping on each other too badly, as long as they each choose a different circle. The same thing applies to the other classes as well though I am sure some accomplish it better than others.
Comparing this to 4E character creation, well, it's no comparison - there are more races, more classes, more options within each class, plus skills, backgrounds, and themes. This is a playtest though and I would expect more and more options once the game is published. Next is a more old-school in feel and does not need a computer to generate them but I'm sure one will be coming along in the near future anyway.
Comparing it to Labyrinth Lord (basic and advanced) well it's a lot like the advanced player's guide version of LL with a few extra house rules. Attributes, races, equipment and alignments are very similar. I've played around with different ability check options when we've played that game so that's not unfamiliar. The spell lists are similar though saves are fairly different. Next classes allow for more differentiation between two characters of the same class, so two fighters may work very differently, and that's a good thing but there are some ideas here that could easily be ported to LL and used without much complication.